Dickenson explains Stamps' latest cuts
Alberta’s unemployment rate may be high, but there are jobs available at McMahon Stadium.
For the first time in years, there are openings at several key positions for the Calgary Stampeders in training camp.
The biggest one: Who will be catching passes from star quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell.
Calgary’s two star receivers from 2019, Reginald Begelton and Eric Rogers, who combined for more than 2,500 yards and ranked in the top 10 in the league in receiving yards, have moved on. Begelton is now with the Green Bay Packers while Rogers signed with the Toronto Argonauts.
Star receiver Kamar Jorden, who has played just one game since suffering a knee injury in the 2018 Labour Day Classic, is the Stampeders’ biggest hope at making up for the loss of Begelton and Rogers. Calgary will also need contributions from sophomores Hergy Mayala, Josh Huff, and local product Colton Hunchak.
“Losing 2,500 yards of production, somebody has to fill that hole,” Mayala said. His 38 catches in 2019 were third on the team.
“I feel like it’s an opportunity for someone to go into that role and I’m looking forward to it. I knew what [Begelton and Rogers] could do and I went to work every day with them. Seeing what they did, I’m just trying to emulate that.”
After playing nine games in his rookie season, Hunchak should see his role increase. He lived with Mitchell before training camp began.
“We both felt that we wanted to work out with each other and push each other,” Hunchak said. “It was a really good opportunity for me. I jumped on that right away. Even just off-the-field stuff, seeing how he goes on a day-to-day basis as a pro and that championship mentality day in and day out, it’s great and it’s trickling off onto me.”
Despite the eight-year age gap, the two have bonded over another shared pursuit: parenthood.
“I’m a young father as well, so I definitely look up to him,” Hunchak said. “He’s a great father and has a great family.”
Outside of North American players, the Stampeders think highly of Mexican Andres Salgado, who was taken in the 2019 CFL-LFA Draft. (The LFA is the Mexican football league – Liga de Fútbol Americano Profesional.)
Teammates and coaches have praised the receiver’s work habits and improvement since making his debut two years ago.
“The one thing you never question about Andres is his soul,” Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said.
Marquay McDaniel, the team’s receiving coach and a former Stampeder himself, had similar comments.
“Andres definitely put a lot of work in on the field and also in the weight room,” he said. “He’s looking good. He’s a smart guy.”
McDaniel played several seasons with Mitchell and wants to impart his decade of CFL experience on this young receiver group.
“My mentality is that they’ve got to be pros on the field and off the field at all times,” McDaniel said. “I know where those guys need to be at all times. I think my job right now is to help those guys get there and give them some tools to beat man-to-man coverage and little things here and there so they’re in the right spot.”
Beyond wide receiver, there are several other positions up in the air. Mitchell’s backup has come down to former Argonaut Dakota Prukop, American Jake Maier, and former UBC Thunderbirds star Michael O’Connor. According to Dickenson, there hasn’t yet been any separation among the three.
On the defensive side of the ball, star linebacker Jameer Thurman is back with the team after pursuing NFL opportunities following the Stampeders’ Grey Cup win in 2018. Thurman said that this season, he wants to lead the league in turnovers and be named the defensive player of the year.
Dickenson called the spot next to Thurman, once occupied by current Philadelphia Eagle Alex Singleton, a “wide-open job.” Veteran Cory Greenwood, who has been off the field during training camp because of injury, could be in that role come August.
On special teams, the Stampeders are looking to replace long-time punter Rob Maver, who retired at the end of the 2019 season. Cody Grace, an Australian who played at Arkansas State University, is a candidate to replace him.
Despite the question marks, Stampeders general manager John Hufnagel said that the uncertainty creates opportunity.
“If I was a young player coming in to this camp, I’d be really excited,” he said.